Saturday, February 19, 2022

Why You Won't See Me At Church Anymore: My Wife's Story

Hello, friends.  This post has been a long time coming.  I have wanted to put down in writing my feelings for quite a while. I am writing this to explain my “de-conversion” story from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I guess that is what I should call it.  Or my faith story.  I am also primarily directing this to the people of my current ward.  The title in my head that kept coming to me when I was planning to write this was “Why You Won’t See Me At Church Anymore.”

Let me start by saying we have lived in our home in San Tan Valley for twelve years, and have been an active presence in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for all that time.  I have seen lots of changes to the stakes and wards around here due to the rapid growth.  I have been a part of a new ward being created, have attended church in three different buildings, and have seen numerous stake presidents and bishops.  I suppose I am mentioning this because I want to make it clear how emotionally and socially invested we have been in the church in our little area.

The ward I am in now is what I consider to be the best ward in the world.  I absolutely love the people.  I cannot say enough good things about them.  As a general rule, everyone here has been so loving and supportive of my family and me during these last twelve years.  I basically just feel like I owe them an explanation as to why they won’t be seeing us at church on Sundays anymore.  Even just saying that breaks my heart a little bit.  We had a regular parking spot.  A regular pew.  I have served in countless callings, as has my husband Ben.  In short, I really have loved my time in the church, and more specifically my time in my current ward.  I have had three of the most incredible bishops a member can ask for.  They are just amazing men.  Truly.  

So why am I going to stop attending the LDS Church?  Now we get to my story.  And forgive me, but I am going to start at the beginning because I feel like it will help give some context.  And why not?  

When I was growing up, we considered our family to be Christian.  We would sometimes say prayers over dinner, read Bible stories, and had a general moral compass based on Christian values.  But we never actually belonged to or attended a church.  I’m not sure why.  And it doesn’t matter.  In high school I felt an urge to go to church.  Now, I want to say here that I think there are two different kinds of Christians: Christians who think there is one true church that God established and has His authority, and Christians who think they find a church that works for them, and that there isn’t one true church.  Maybe I am oversimplifying things, but that has always been my understanding.  This is a good time to say that at that point, I was one of the latter Christians, and I’m kind of still one of those types of Christians today.

l looked around at a few churches, and I eventually started going to the Church of the Nazarene on Sundays with a friend.  I joined their choir the first time I was there and attended a potluck.  I went until I graduated and it was really nice.  I also attended a Baptist youth group on Wednesday nights with another friend, although I don’t remember that as much.  

Then, I went to college at Eastern Arizona College and stopped going to church.  I never hunted down a Nazarene or Baptist Church in Thatcher.  No one from those churches came looking for me and asked why I wasn’t going, and tried to lead me back.  I just kind of slipped away.  I started participating in a very watered-down, and tame version of the typical “college life.”  Luckily, I had that moral compass that kept me from getting into trouble, or doing anything too stupid.  But I wasn’t attending church, and I wasn’t thinking about church.

At Eastern Arizona College, the vast majority of the students there are LDS.  It could almost be a private Christian college.  Maybe that has changed a bit since I went there from 2002-2005, but when I was there, that was the case.  I loved my time there.  I had a full academic scholarship and majored in music performance.  They were great years.

Up until college, I had only had a few encounters with the LDS church and its members.  Some of those encounters were favorable, and many were not.  In high school and the beginning part of college, the church was never even on my radar as a possible option.

Then I started meeting some pretty incredible people.  Like my roommate, Erin, and - you guessed it - Ben Bird!  They never actively tried to convert me; they just cared about me.  I eventually was drawn to the church and started taking the missionary discussions.  I read the Book of Mormon and did what it says: pray about it, and if you “feel the spirit,” and get those warm fuzzies, then you know it’s true.  Well, I thought I received that confirmation, so I joined.

In looking back, I am sure there were some factors that influenced my decision to join.  When you are not LDS at EAC, you become everyone’s project.  People invite you to church things, they “fellowship” and befriend you, and basically just try and get you to convert.  I’m not saying this is inherently bad.  When you have something in your life you feel will make someone a better and happier person, and save their soul, you share it!  And that’s what people did.  I was absolutely the cool kid on campus when I was investigating the church.  It was a lot of fun to be a part of this otherwise awesome community anyway, but there was just an extra excitement around the potential converts.  And I felt it.  

There was also a bit of a “flirt-to-convert” mentality.  On the same day I was baptized by my then boyfriend (now husband) Ben, one of my other roommates was baptized by her then boyfriend.  This was a very common tale.   

Another factor in my conversion, when looking back, was the fact that I knew I was supposed to marry Ben Bird.  I absolutely knew it.  I had that impression almost immediately upon meeting him, and he has a pretty cool story from before we were even dating that made him feel the same way.  It’s a sweet story, and if he ever wants to tell you he can.  So, if I knew I was supposed to marry Ben, then the LDS church kind of came with him.  They were a package deal.  

Just to be clear, he never told me to convert.  He never said, “We can’t date if you aren’t LDS.”  There was zero coercion.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.  When I was investigating the church, he made it very clear to me that he wanted me to do it for myself - not for him.  So in the process of looking into the church, that was something I had to be honest with myself about.  If Ben and I were to break up, would I still go?  And the answer to that question was yes. 

Remember, I was a Christian who didn’t necessarily think there was a totally true, perfect church.  I just wanted to find a good one that I would keep going to.  The Bible says we should go to church.  People who go to church live, on average, seven years longer than people who don’t (and they took out all the variables - how cool is that?!).  The community and organization of the LDS Church in my opinion is inspired and brilliant.  And if I ever became a lost sheep, they’d come after me!  They know me, and care about me, and will try and find me.  Those other churches in high school didn’t do that.  So those were my qualifications for a church, and the LDS Church fit.  The bonus: I prayed and felt the warm fuzzies, so I thought it was the true church.  Even better!

I decided to be baptized.  Ben baptized me in 2005.  My parents came, and my mom had a really wonderful spiritual experience.  My roommate and I sang a duet.  It was a wonderful day.  I don’t regret it for a second. 

Ben and I proceeded to get married in the temple and live a picture perfect LDS life.  We held various callings, had children, prayed together, read scriptures together, had family home evening, went to church every Sunday (even on vacations)…  And it was wonderful.  I felt close to God, and like I was in the right place.  Like I said before, I love the people and the organization, and I really did feel God’s influence in my life during that time. 

Now we come to 2010.  This was five years after I joined the church, four years after Ben and I got married, and we have one baby.  Ben’s oldest brother came out with the news that he no longer believed in the church.  His family was devastated, reasonably so, and that included Ben.  He was heartbroken, and wanted to do anything to bring his big brother back into the fold.  By 2012, he and his brother were corresponding back and forth, exchanging literature, and even met in person once for a camping trip.  Ben was trying to convince his brother to come back to the church and what ended up happening was that Ben lost his traditional testimony.  

For a long time, he tried to reconcile the things that weren’t adding up for him.  For instance, he listened to some “fringe” Latter-day Saints who were coming up with theories to explain some of the issues, acting as apologists in a way.  For two years, he tried to hold on to his testimony.  He even wrote about his new ideas on a blog.  He desperately wanted answers to some of his questions, and no one would really talk to him about those issues.  I feel that is very typical when you start having doubts in the church.  You get stained with some invisible “sheep in wolf's clothing”/“heretic” kind of mark and most Latter-day Saints won’t touch you with a ten-foot pole.  And I do get it.  I don’t like it, but I get it.  There’s so much at stake.

Now, he did meet with bishops and stake presidents along the way.  He even showed our bishop and stake president his blog in hopes that he could start up a dialogue.  But instead of a dialogue, the stake president asked him to take it down.  And I encouraged him to do it.  I don’t want to explain his story too much, because you can read it for yourself.  Basically the reason I encouraged him was because even though he didn’t think the church was “true” anymore, he still saw enough good in it to continue to stay, and at the time he didn’t feel pulled anywhere else.  So I made the argument that if he still wanted to stay a member of the church, and receive all the benefits the church had to offer, then he should follow their rules.  That’s only fair.

In hindsight, I do regret encouraging him to take his blog down.  That kind of censorship is inexcusable in my opinion, and I am sorry I asked him to do it.  But, at the time, we were afraid of a disciplinary council and possible excommunication if he left it up.  And as a Latter-day Saint, that… is… scary.  There are so many possible repercussions, like the loss of family, friends, community, social standing, and even career.  So he took his blog posts down, and we continued to live as a regular, active LDS family for years.

At first, in 2012, when Ben was starting to drift away from the church, I will admit it was very hard.  The reason it was so hard was because when we got married, we made some commitments to each other (and God) about how our life and our marriage was going to look.  So if Ben didn’t believe in the church anymore, did he still believe in God?  And did we even have the same morals anymore?  When we got married we said that we weren’t going to drink tea or coffee ever.  Well, it’s not a huge deal if he starts drinking some Earl Grey in the mornings I suppose. Ok.  But we also said we weren’t going to drink alcohol, and we weren’t going to do drugs, and we weren’t going to cheat on each other, and not look at pornography, and raise our kids a certain way, and keep the commandments, and stay married forever… The list goes on and on.

It wasn’t so much that he didn’t believe in the church anymore that scared me, it was the fact that because he didn’t believe in the church anymore, what else did he not believe anymore?  This can be really difficult to navigate for couples in our situation, especially when the person leaving the church wants to make lifestyle changes that are unacceptable to the other person.  But because nothing about the logistics of our marriage really changed at that time, it did make it a lot easier for us.  Our relationship was just fine (which is so often not the case when a spouse leaves the church).

Ben continued going to church while not believing in it for seven years.  And to us (maybe mostly me) it was always viewed as this dirty little secret that he didn’t actually believe in it.  I didn’t want anyone to know.  There was an instance once, during that time, when he couldn’t go to the temple with me.  I remember he actually told me I could tell people he was addicted to porn (which he wasn’t) because that would be more socially acceptable than him just not believing in the church anymore.  As I write that it’s pretty sad, but that’s how it is.  

If you don’t believe in the church anymore there is a bit of a stigma where people automatically think certain things about you.  They think that you are sinning in some way, or that you just want to go off and drink coffee or alcohol, or that you want to keep more of your money and stop paying tithing, or that it’s too hard to be there for one reason or another, or that you are struggling in some way, or that you have been led away by the devil because you were reading the wrong things on the internet that you never should have been looking at in the first place - but that you still believe, and you’ll see the light, and eventually come back.  There are probably other reasons, but those are the big ones.  I feel like there is so much judgment placed upon those who leave, for those reasons and more, and so we basically kept it a secret for 10 years.  

But, I want to say, some people who leave the church still believe in God.  They still have a strong moral compass.  They don’t intend to ever drink a sip of coffee, or tea, or alcohol. They still pay a full tithe of ten percent of their income.  They still believe that pornography is sinful.  They still pray.  They are close to God and believe they are being directed by Him.  They just don’t believe the LDS church is true.  That’s all.  And that’s Ben.  He’s still the same man.  He is more pious now than he was while he was a believing Latter-day Saint as a matter of fact.  So judge him if you must, but he’s doing what he believes God is telling him.  And it wasn’t a desire to drink, smoke or stay home on Sundays that caused him to leave.

Ok.  I said this was more of my story, but I keep going back to Ben.  I just want to go on the record and defend him a bit from the potential judgment people might have towards him.  He’s an amazing man and I wouldn’t have picked him if he wasn’t!  I’m no dummy ;)  Back to my story.

Now for those of you who don’t know this, Ben got baptized into the Catholic Church on Easter of 2021.  And again, for his conversion story you can read it here. When Ben originally started looking into the Catholic Church in 2019, I was pretty worried.   After all, the Catholic Church is terrible, right?  The LDS Church paints it in an awful light.  It’s “the great and abominable church” mentioned in the Book of Mormon for crying out loud.  And so many of the Articles of Faith (the declarations about what the LDS church believes) are statements about how it is different than the Catholic Church.  If you claim to have the true church, and someone else claims to have it too, (which the Catholic Church also does) then you better distinguish yourself from that other church, and mainstream Christianity, as well for that matter.

So, I was not happy with the prospect of being a Catholic family.  Ben wanted us to be, but I fought it for a long time.  I also wanted to make sure Ben’s new affinity for the Catholic Church wasn’t a fluke and that he wouldn’t change his mind down the road.  Well, he never changed his mind, and it finally got to the point where we needed to tell the kids.  Up to this point, Ben had been praying the rosary for almost a year, and had been attending mass for months, without the kids knowing.  When he left in his shirt and tie for mass, we would just tell the kids he was going to a church meeting.

In 2020 Ben decided that he wanted to come out of the closet as someone who was Catholic.  He hadn’t been baptized, but he considered himself to be Catholic.  He was going through the process of converting (which meant he was taking classes with the intent to get baptized as soon as he could).  So we told the kids that “Daddy likes the Catholic Church, and Mommy likes the LDS Church” and so we are going to all go to both for a while.  So I went to mass with Ben and the kids, and then Ben went to the LDS Church with me and the kids.  That lasted until COVID.  Then all the in-person churches got shut down and it became easy to just kind of put all of that on hold.  

By the time church started up again, I had had another baby, and it was just easier for Ben and me to stay home with the baby and switch off churches.  So Ben went to mass with the four big kids, and I went to the LDS church with the four big kids.  It was a lot of church, but it was important to us, and we made it work.  The kids had started to learn more about the Catholic Church and understand more that dad thought it was the true church and would prefer we all be Catholic.  And the kids also knew where I stood, and that I just want a good Christian Church and I absolutely thought the LDS Church fit the bill.  (I’m trying to quiet the little voice inside my head right now about what people must think of our decisions thus far.  I am a super private person and don’t share a lot about myself.  In part, because I must be afraid I am being judged.  I am trying to get over that and care more about what God thinks than what others think).  I digress. 

I am not going to pretend that that time in our lives (2019-2021) wasn’t hard.  COVID and having a newborn baby just added to the stress.  There was some tension in my relationship with Ben.  There were things that I just wasn’t ok with about the Catholic Church.  For one, if I left the LDS Church, I would be losing an entire community that took me twelve years to build.  I have incredible friends.  People know me and care about me there.  I serve there.  I feel valued and loved and needed there.  People come to me for advice, and I like that.  My kids have amazing friends.  The LDS Church does such a good job creating little communities of youth that hold onto each other and help each other through the challenging and foundational years of young adulthood.  We need a good group of friends to keep us out of trouble, and keep us on a good Christian path!  

I also had no idea what a good Catholic even looked like.  Until Ben, I had never met a practicing Catholic.  In their defense, perhaps I didn’t ask.  But any Catholic I knew was not active, and I had no idea if they even really believed what their church taught. 

Within the last few months, I have tried my best to take away all the lenses that were between me and God.  I didn’t want to hear what the LDS Church or the Catholic Church told me I was supposed to believe about God.  I wanted to read the Bible without any organization’s opinion.  I found a neutral translation of the Bible, and read the New Testament fairly quickly.  My prayers eventually switched from “God, if the Catholic Church is true, You’re gonna have to really hit me over the head, because I don’t wanna be Catholic,” to “ok I give up.  I don’t wanna fight anymore.  Please just lead me in the direction You want me to go.  No more trying to force something, or have absolute certainty (which I wanted SO badly).  I just wanna know what You want for me and my family.  Because I wanna hear it from You, and not just change directions because Ben wants me to.”

When that desire to just “let go and let God” happened, little doors started to open for the Catholic Church, and close for the LDS Church.  I could go into all the details here, but I don’t think I will.  I can just say that some of the voids that were going to be created by leaving the LDS Church, were starting to get filled by the Catholic Church.  One of which was the social aspect.  Our family has met some incredible people in the last few months that have been instrumental in our lives.  We’ve been attending social events with other Catholics, and are just on cloud nine after leaving their company.

Another aspect is music.  I have joined a choir at a local parish, and really feel like it is where I am supposed to be.  I feel needed, and of service there.  I have been using my God-given talent again to worship, which has filled a very deep void in my life I didn’t realize was there.   I did some math, and I have participated in choirs consistently, ether as a member or directing, for over 20 years.  Making sacred music with a group of people is one of the ways I feel most at peace in this world.  It’s what I love to do.  So I am beyond grateful to be a part of that group.

Another little sign that kept coming up over and over again, while reading the Bible, was the way Jesus describes the role of men and women and husbands and wives.  And now here is where, if you are a bit of a feminist, you might not like what I have to say, but the Bible is very clear about the husband being the spiritual leader of the household.  You can spin it however you want, and try and mince words, but that’s what it says.  So… the Bible says I should be following Ben’s counsel as he tries to follow the counsel of God, and that is what the LDS Church teaches as well.  Now, that is NOT to say that I cannot go directly to God, because I do.  And that is NOT to say that if my husband is a God-hating dirtbag, I have to do anything he says, which he isn’t.  He is trying his best to follow the direction he sees God leading our family.  

Here is where I should probably add a pretty critical piece of the story that I haven’t mentioned up until now.  While Ben was going through his “faith crisis,” we had an open dialogue about everything he was learning and everything he felt.  Because I didn’t want to shut him out like I had seen so many other people in his life do, I listened.  I listened to all of his concerns.  And let me tell you, they were valid concerns that made a lot of sense.  During that time, during my open dialogue with Ben, my traditional testimony of the church also changed.  I became more of a liberal Mormon.  I guess you could say I stopped believing in the truth claims of the LDS church as well.  In short, I didn’t really believe it anymore either.  

That might sound crazy to some, especially knowing how active and faithful I was up until now.  But remember, I just wanted a good Christian church that would help me be close to God, help me raise my kids, and be a place where I could serve the way God wanted me to, and the way I wanted to.  And the LDS Church worked for me.  It worked really well.  It didn’t matter to me that it wasn't true.  I still loved it and wanted to be a part of it.  I know some may not understand that, and that’s ok.

So back to my husband being the spiritual leader.  If Ben had had his way, our entire family would have been baptized in 2020.  I did not want to join the Catholic Church at that time, and so the kids and I didn’t.  Although the Bible encourages me to follow my husband’s lead spiritually (if he is worthy and actually heeding to God) I am not going to do anything unless I get that confirmation from God - for myself.  Our family didn’t make this shift towards the Catholic Church until I said it was ok.  Until I also felt what Ben was feeling.  Until I got that confirmation from God first, for myself.

Now, let me be clear.  I am not getting baptized Catholic.  I am not even currently talking classes to become Catholic.  But, I am no longer closing myself off to the idea.  I am opening myself to whatever God wants for me.  And to be real honest, all the signs are pointing pretty clearly towards the Catholic Church.  For the first time since beginning to attend mass, I am seeing the beauty.  I am starting to feel the warm fuzzies.  But let me say, this time I am trying to do this as intellectually as possible.  I have been pouring over early Christian history and doctrine so that I can make this decision a bit more with my head this time than with my heart; although, I do still take the promptings of the heart and spirit seriously, and there have been plenty. 

I would also like to say here and now, just as a piece of information, all of our children will be getting baptized in the Catholic Church sometime around Easter, before the summer.  We have chosen a beautiful couple to be our children’s Godparents.  They have four lovely children and our kids get along really well.  I cannot be happier that this family will now be linked with ours spiritually for the rest of our lives.  God has brought our two families together and we can all see it.  They are truly an answer to our prayers.  Everyone is invited to the baptism, and don’t hesitate to ask when or where it is.

Now, that is the part of the story that tells you about some of the doors that were opening for the Catholic Church, and I am leaving a lot of them out because this is already so long.  I didn’t, however, explain the doors that were closing for the LDS Church, and I don’t plan to do that here.  You might be thinking, “Well Erin, if you haven’t really believed in the church for all this time, and it didn’t matter before, what has changed?  Why are you all of a sudden not wanting to go?”  The only way to explain that answer is to speak negatively about the LDS Church, and I’m not going to do that.  I just can’t.  I owe too much to this organization.  And, because the intended audience for this post is mostly the members of my current ward, and I don’t have any kind of an agenda other than telling my story.  If you would like to have a conversation with me personally, I would be more than happy to do that.  I have already had this conversation personally with my best friend and neighbor, two of my other close friends (who happen to be my kiddo’s primary president and young women’s president), my bishop and his wife, some family members, and several other close friends.  Simply due to logistics, I can’t have it with everyone in my ward, but if you’d like to chat in person, just ask!

I know that this is going to be hard for so many of you to hear, and that is because you love and care about me and my family.  You believe that you have the fullness of the gospel, and the true and only way that will lead us all back to Heaven - together.  You are heartbroken because you feel we are missing out on that.  I understand.  And you might feel that it is just tragic that “Ben has led me and the kids away from the only true church.”  And let me tell you, if I believed the LDS Church was true, it would be tragic.  It would be tragic that we are all just going to be Catholic because Ben wants us to be, and I’m just being a subservient little wife who’s being forced to do something she doesn’t want to do.  But that just isn’t the real story.  You now have the real story.  

I can say confidently that I should no longer attend the LDS Church on Sundays with my children.  God has closed that door.  I suppose you could argue that if I don’t believe in the LDS Church anymore, then why not find another church?  Perhaps some non-denominational church.  But then I would have to say: Why?  Why would I further divide my family?  Why would I start from scratch to find a church that may or may not be any better than the Catholic Church just to have more of “a say?”  And then I’d also have to add: Because I feel God is leading me to the Catholic Church.  That’s why.

I love and respect all of my LDS friends.  I want you to know that all I want for you is to have a wonderful Christian life.  I hope you continue following God’s plan for you.  I don’t expect you to agree with my decision.  I would only hope that you know Ben and I are trying as hard as we can to raise our children in a good, Christian home, with values, and morals, and a love of God and all people. 

And to my ward family:  I love you all so much.  I want to still be a part of your life!  Please still text me when your kiddo has an ear infection, and I’ll come over with my otoscope and garlic and mullein oil.  Please still offer me your extra produce from your garden, because you know I’ll use it.  Please still invite my children over for playdates, and me over for mom dates.  And please allow us to come to ward parties and me to Relief Society activities (because I’m going to miss those terribly).  Please don’t be afraid of me.  Please still talk to me about your life and your church and ask me about my life and my church.  I am not saying goodbye.  You are my spiritual family, and I still want you and your positive influence in mine and my family’s lives.  I still want to serve you, and I hope you will still serve me and my family.  It takes a village right?  

Thank you for listening, and God bless you.

P.S. I feel like I should say that our family is doing really well.  This post has been more factual than emotional (as Ben has pointed out to me).  We are all happy about this new chapter in our lives.  We love seeing how God works.  So, although things have been tough the last few years (for lots of reasons), things are really great right now!  And I’m at peace. ❤️

P.S. If you’d like to read more about Ben’s conversion, you are more than welcome to.  I didn’t want to give too much of his story, because it is his to tell.  And he’s the better writer anyway ;)  You can look through this blog to understand his progression.  It started as “reasons to stay LDS even though you don’t believe in the church anymore” because that is what he believed.  His most recent post explains his conversion to Catholicism.  I am basically writing this post on this blog as a guest.  


1 comment:

  1. I do consider myself a Mormon and believe in the core doctrines, however the modern LDS church today is not the same church that Joseph Smith established. I honestly think that Joseph Smith would be excommunicated from the modern LDS church today. I also applaud your leap of faith to do the hard things and follow God as you see best. Without a doubt this is a hard choice however I know that God will see this and recognize your love for him.

    I have had several conversations with people about the LDS church and they are simply afraid of thinking about anything critically because they are worried where it might lead them. This is not where God wants his people to be. We must trust in God and be willing to do whatever he wants us to do, wherever he wants us to do it, and however he wants us to do it. Sadly, we today have so many idols that we no longer have room for God.